As a father-to-be, you may not realize the influence your new bundle of joy will have on every aspect of your life. You probably hear a steady flow of excited chatter from friends and family members commenting about due dates, baby names, and gender predictions, but conversations centering on these themes do not prepare dad for life with baby. Channel your inner Boy Scout and prepare ahead of time by learning what to expect and how to prepare for the big event.
Doctor Visits – Go with Mom or Stay Home?
In generations past, an expectant father did not accompany his wife during the labor and delivery process; nor did he join her in the exam room during her prenatal visits. These days, OB/GYNs and other healthcare professionals encourage modern dads to attend these prenatal care appointments with their partners. At these visits, you can discuss father-specific questions and concerns that may not occur to her.
Frequency of Doctor Visits
Assuming a normal, low-risk pregnancy, your mom-to-be will need about 15 routine prenatal visits, scheduled with varying frequency: once per month until 28 weeks, three to four visits from week 28 to 36, and once per week for the final month. Your partner will most likely appreciate your efforts to make time to attend all or most of these appointments. Understandably, work and other responsibilities may make attending all visits unrealistic; however, the initial visit and the prenatal ultrasound exam are two you won’t want to miss.
What to Expect at Prenatal Appointments
During the exam, the OB/GYN physician will provide both of you with general advice about how to have a healthy pregnancy and address any specific medical issues. Pay close attention and ask thoughtful questions. You may benefit from writing your questions and concerns down before the visit, as many people tend to forget these once in the exam room. This exam typically involves recording of the mother’s vital signs, weight, and collecting lab samples of urine and blood.
The ultrasound exam usually takes place around the 20th week of pregnancy. During this exam you may get a first glimpse of the baby and take home a sonogram snapshot for the baby’s keepsake album. Ultrasound exams can also reveal the baby’s gender. Decide in advance whether you want to know or wait for a surprise. Some physicians perform the ultrasound earlier in the pregnancy to screen for birth defects or to rule out a suspected problem.
Prepare Your Home for the New Arrival
When people talk about the milestones and changes of pregnancy, they tend to say a lot about transformations in the mother’s body and her fluctuating moods. People tend to talk less about the changes a new baby will bring to the home and domestic routine of the new parents.
Now that you’re soon to be a family, your home also will contain a lot more stuff. In come the crib, changing table, nursing rocker, bassinet, swing, stroller and car seat, plus all the baby toys and gadgets that you never knew existed, but which you now must have.
If you plan to set up a nursery, get ready to decorate. Crib sheets and bumper patterns will become important topics you must be prepared to discuss at great length. Pregnant women are cautioned to avoid paint fumes, so of course all the painting they want done falls to you.
You may not be able to match the mom-to-be’s level of enthusiasm, but your participation counts. Just smile and repaint the room. Things will be different in the bedroom, too. The bed you share may seem less cozy as she becomes more uncomfortable and sleeps fitfully, making frequent trips to the bathroom in the night. You may even lose your bedmate for a while, because some pregnant women prefer to sleep in a reclining chair.
Take Charge of Your Health
A new life now depends on you. This means that you must start taking your health seriously. Begin a regular exercise program and adjust eating habits to reflect your new commitment to health. Baby will learn from your example. If you smoke, smoking inside your home must stop. Not only is it bad for you, secondhand smoke can negatively impact the baby’s health.
As the Time Draws Near
At some point, the mom-to-be will draw up her birth plan. A birth plan is a detailed description of her purposed labor and delivery experience, including the medical facility where the birth takes place, how she intends to labor (with or without epidural or other pain relievers, etc.), whom she wants in the actual delivery room and your role in the process.
Taking a birthing class together can help you figure out the best practical ways to support her throughout labor. There are many different ways for labor and delivery to play out, so it’s difficult to describe a typical experience for a father-to-be in much detail.
The Big Event
It’s fair to assume that your partner will deliver the baby in a hospital, the setting where 99 percent of all births in the United States occur. Doctors and nurses will monitor the progression of labor as well as the baby’s heart rate and other important vital signs.
If you plan on going to a certain hospital, visit the maternity unit in advance. Anticipate spending several hours there once labor begins – sometimes up to 48 hours – waiting for the delivery. Since every woman’s birthing process is different in some way, predicting the length of labor is difficult. However, most women, having their first child, experience labor that lasts between 12 and 24 hours from her first contractions to delivery. Your partner will let you know when it’s time and when she does, proceed calmly to the hospital.
As labor progresses, the mother will experience increasing, intense pain. Stay with her throughout all of it, offering your support and assistance. You may find this part the most challenging to manage, but try to stay calm and exhilarate in the experience. The birth of a child is a big event that will change your life for the better. Congratulations!